When it rain, it pours (Thunder Rolls part 2)

When we last left our intrepid trio, they were shoving off from the banks of the Apple River in the pre-dawn darkness.  I, for one, had seriously mixed feelings about the paddle. On one hand, I was delighted.  This was the first Thunder Rolls that my team has hit the river before daylight (we opted to skip the paddle in 2012, and we had some complications on the ropes that put us behind schedule in 2013).  Also, having endured a paddle at Stubborn Mule as the middle person in a canoe with no middle seat, I was thrilled to know that the Thunder Rolls canoes had three seats.  Finally, while the thought of tipping is never a particularly happy one, it's far less scary on a hot summer day than, say, during a 15* winter paddle.

On the other hand, my dislike of paddling is no secret. It's by far my least favorite discipline, and my heart had sunk at the pre-race meeting when Gerry told us the paddle was 22 miles.  With three of us in the canoe, it was more likely to handle like a barge.  And...wow was my seat uncomfortable.  It seemed really low, and somehow it sloped backwards, forcing me to either lean back at an angle or hunch way forward.  Suboptimal.

There was really no way to get comfortable, though I tried scooting around in different positions.  I have a semi-deserved reputation with my regular teammates for not complaining, and it's something I pride myself on, but in this case I made my discomfort clear enough that Keith offered to switch places with me after the brief trekking leg we had partway through the paddle.  Thankfully, before too long we saw the takeout for the trek and pulled over to the riverbank.

It doesn't look like hell on earth at all, but pictures never tell the full story.
After dragging our barge onto the bank, we were hit with a double blow.  First was the realization that we'd left our paddle bag, filled with water and fuel for the second half of the race, back at the bike drop.  Then we took a good look at our canoe in daylight and realized that my seat was broken.  Not just a little broken, but with the supports splayed out to the front and back (I swear, I didn't break the seat).  The guys tried shoving them back it place, but it wasn't happening.  For some reason, the knowledge that the problem was the seat, not me, made me feel worse.  It wasn't fixable, it wasn't a matter of just getting used to paddling, and I still had ~19 miles of river ahead of me.  But for now, at least, we were out of the canoe and onto the trek.

The clue for the first CP was lakeside, or something like that.  There were exactly zero lakes in the location we'd plotted the CP.  Because the lake hadn't been there when the map data was collected, Gerry also provided us a map of the lake printed from Google Earth.  Looking at it while we plotted points, I didn't have a clue what it was supposed to show us; luckily, Chuck was able to match up the curve of the river on the two maps (no small task since I think we had nine maps for this race) and figure out where the printout fit the course.

Finding the lake was easy; finding where the checkpoint was...wasn't as easy.  We made our way along the edge of the lake for a while, peering across to see if we could catch a glimpse of orange and white.  No luck. After a while, I mentioned, "I think it's time we get out that Google map." It's always nice to be racing with someone I know well enough to be comfortable making suggestions to.  My Virtus teammates have always been that way too; they've always included me in navigational decisions, but I've rarely had the confidence to speak up.  I worked really hard over the past year to improve my nav skills, and it was just for situations like this, to be able to give input when we weren't exactly sure where to go.  Between us, we figured it out and found the flag.

No shortage of vegetation
"We've got a big hill to climb now," Chuck said.  I replied something stupid about liking big hills because they made navigation easier than more subtle features.  That was true until we started hiking up a ridiculously steep, nettle-infested slope and I quickly remembered why I don't love hills.  As I gasped my way to the top, Keith waded bare-legged through the nettle.  I felt for him, because it was stinging me through my trekking pants; I knew it was way worse for him. Once we found the next CP he stopped and put on his rain pants.  Way better than nothing.

I don't remember much about the next two CPs, so I'll just let the pictures speak for themselves.

Chuck: I remember - hilltop, to rentrant bottom, to hilltop, to rentrant bottom.  The clue for one CP was 'saddle', but there was no saddle visible on the 1-24,000 scale map, so we were a little concerned about where the point was plotted.  It turned out to be dead center in a saddle (too small to make the map scale) which was described as two Indian burial mounds during the pre-race meeting.  I would have loved to explore the mounds a little. 

Did anyone else giggle and mutter "That's what she said"?
Muddy slopes

Muddy reentrants
I did learn a couple valuable lessons on this leg.  One was Chuck's way is better. Every time I tried a slightly different (theoretically easier) line through the woods, it was disastrous.  I walked through a lot of thick mud and climbed over a lot of fallen trees in the hopes of maybe avoiding a little bit of climbing.  I also learned that trees are not my friend.  Holding onto a trunk to steady myself as I climbed down a muddy bank, I slipped and swung around the tree as if I was sliding down a pole, leaving some skin behind (I later also learned the hard way not to spray bug spray on a fresh abrasion).

With the end of that relatively short trek I was dreading getting back into the canoe but still hopeful that we might find a 2-person team to trade with, so I was heartbroken to see a 2-person team paddle away as we headed towards the beached canoes.  There was no lucky rescue coming; I was going to have to suck it up and deal with the broken seat.

Keith again offered to take the middle, and while I felt bad about him having to be so uncomfortable, I was all ready to accept his offer.  Then Chuck spoke up in a don't-kill-the-messenger mumble that made it clear how much he didn't want to say it: "...the lightest person really needs to be in the front or the canoe will start getting tippy."

Chuck: And I regret saying that.   In the end, maybe, general canoe loading rules would have been less significant than splitting up the bad seat and sharing the pain.

Or maybe not.  I like having teammates who know they can tell me shitty things that I need to hear rather than do something the wrong way to make me happy.

That was that.  We got into our assigned spots in the canoe and shoved off.  There's really no way to make 19 miles in a canoe interesting, so I'll give you the parts that stood out.

1.  Bringing the pain. It hurt. A lot.  I'd have been uncomfortable no matter what since the only paddling I do is during an adventure race, but the broken seat took things to a new level and I was constantly stopping paddling, shifting around, and trying (in vain) to find a comfortable position.  The guys were probably ready to shake me, but they never complained.  I'm disappointed in my lack of mental toughness here; the only way out was to finish the canoe, but I couldn't get past my discomfort and stay focused on paddling.  I did a lot of crying on this leg.
Dramatization. I told my class about the race and then used the experience as a think-aloud during our writing lesson. They remembered a lot of details, which was pretty cool. 

Chuck: 1a. Thats what she said.  I was sitting in the back watching the way she was scrunched up and hunched over, and knew how miserable it had to be.  Even with that Kate paddled more than shes letting on, there was some pauses, but we did long sections non-stop with a great cadence.  I looked forward several times at my teammates, one with a nail in his foot, and one with a back ready to break down into cramps and spasms, and was absolutely impressed by these bad-ass adventure racers.

If Chuck was any kind of teammate he'd have sliced his hand or something to even things out.

There were some snags in the river and a couple times Keith had to get out and pull us past something, but we all had to get out at this logjam.  On the plus side, we found a log to jam under my seat and raise it up a little bit.  It still wasn't good, but it was better.

On the minus side, now we were carrying even more weight.
Chuck: And don't think we didn't capitalize on all the jokes possible about someone dropping a log in the boat.

2. It's raining, it's pouring. I'm a notorious weather stalker, but after the repeated rains at Stubborn Mule I've stopped worrying so much about it.  Because of that, I hadn't even seen the radar picture of what we had in store for us.

Hmmmm...I wonder if it will rain...
Rain started on the little trek and fell on and off for the majority of the canoe leg. After a while, though, the sky started darkening and the winds picked up. Thinking back to the lunch ride to Hermann and the way I'd advised against putting on rain jackets in summery weather only to get pounded by a storm, I told the guys, "I'm going to pull out my rain jacket before the rain hits."  Minutes later, the storm reached us and the guys, too, were dragging out their coats.

My one non-fake smile of the canoe leg. How do you not laugh about paddling downriver in a rainstorm?
This over-the-shoulder shot took teamwork as I held the camera and Chuck directed where to angle it.
It was raining really hard.
The deluge came complete with thunder and lightning, two of my less favorite things when I'm in the middle of a river, but Keith kept assuring us, "It's 13 miles away..." and I hoped hard he was right.  We kept on paddling in the storm, which kept us a little closer to the teams who'd passed us.  We passed them back while they were sheltering under a bridge; well, first we had to beach our canoe and dump out the excessive amount of water we were carrying. Then we passed them.  Unfortunately, once the weather cleared they cruised past us again; that's how slowly we were moving.  I really need to improve my paddling.

3. Hallucinations and sleep paddling! If you canoe with your eyes closed, you're probably going to knock paddles with the guy in front of you, especially if he is paddling with his eyes closed.  And when my eyes were open, they weren't very reliable.  Over the course of the paddle, I saw a huge, red brick house (dirt riverbank), brightly decorated totem pole (tree), piano in the river (concrete block), and multiple bridges (trees).  It got to the point that I no longer really trusted anything I saw.


Eventually, after 6 hours and 45 minutes of paddling, we finally made it to the canoe pull-out, where I promptly burst into tears telling the volunteers about the broken seat.  We made a slow transition while Keith tended to his injured foot and I basically poked around.  This is another place where I need to up my mental toughness game.  First I wasn't able to keep pushing on the paddle; then, once it was over, I let it totally take the wind out of my sails and was in "poor me, that was so terrible" mode instead of race mode.

All the same, there was still racing to be done, so (eventually) we pedaled away from our friends at the canoe take-out and headed into Palisades Park towards the big trek.


  1. That broken seat sounds like a pain in the ass (and lower back). So I take it the heat didn't start getting too bad yet.

    Regarding your comment on my post, I bet my pace is slower than yours since I'm trying MAF training.

  2. I've missed your spirit. You're amazing.

  3. That sounds so awful. I hate trying to get comfortable when I just can't and you had to put up with it for so long! Why could you skip the paddling another year?

    1. The first year the paddle was later in the race. It wasn't necessary to get from one part of the race to another (basically it was a loop instead of a point to point). And most importantly, Bob has epilepsy and realized he'd forgotten his meds. Because of that, we ended up finishing the race earlier than we typically would.

  4. Seriously. This stuff is crazy.


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